Cable's public image, shaken by the latest round of
rate increases, will be a primary focus of the Cable Television Public Affairs
Association's annual conference in San Diego next week.
A number of Forum '98 sessions at the Loews Coronado
Bay Resort will deal with cable's struggle to be perceived positively in light of
rate increases averaging around 8 percent nationwide and subsequent negative stories in
the media, such as last week's prominent article in USA Today, headlined,
"Operators Pad Channel List to Pad Bills."
Competitive and public-relations issues pervade the
Among the highlights of the show: Pollster Peter Hart will
discuss the results of his research on how the public perceives cable and its competitors;
James Carville, senior political advisor to President Clinton, is expected to offer his
advice on how cable can handle its current public-relations problems; and CBS News
reporter Lesley Stahl will give the conference's keynote speech Monday at noon.
The opening general session, Monday morning, underscores
the theme, "Seen Through the Smoke: The Image of the Cable Industry from the Outside
Looking In." Bob Laurence, TV critic for the San Diego Union-Tribune, will be
on a panel moderated by Dan Novak, station manager for the local Cox Communications Inc.
station, Channel 4 San Diego.
Sara Breaux, the CTPAA's acting executive director,
called rate increases and increasing competition the biggest challenges for the
organization's members in the coming year.
"Rate increases are an especially sensitive grassroots
issue, and one of the things that we have to be able to do is to not be defensive when
responding to negative stories," Breaux said.
An overriding aim of this year's conference, said John
Wolfe, vice president of public and government affairs for Cox's New England
operations and vice president of the CTPAA's board of directors, is to "expose
our members to how we're perceived by policymakers and competitors."
The conference was also designed to explain new
technologies and to emphasize public affairs as an "umbrella concept"
encompassing customer service, government relations, marketing and community relations,
said Jim Boyle, president of the CTPAA's board of directors and senior vice president
of corporate communications for Discovery Communications Inc.
He pointed to sessions on "integrated marketing"
and successful public-affairs initiatives and to an update on cable technology.
On Tuesday, the CTPAA will honor Leo J. Hindery, Jr.,
president and chief operating officer of Tele-Communications Inc., and Tom Freston,
chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, with its President's Award.
On Tuesday evening, the CTPAA will hold its annual Beacon
Awards Dinner and, in conjunction with Cablevision magazine (a sister publication
to Multichannel News), it will present Beacon Awards to cable networks and
operators for campaigns demonstrating excellence in public affairs.